Negus by Kamau Brathwaite Summary


The poem Negus written by Kamau Brathwaite depicts struggle against the colonial language, literature, and culture. One finds that the poet is actually shouting in the poem (it it it, it is not, it is not, it is not, it is not enough). The shouting is a kind of revolt against the influence of colonialism on the minds of Africans.

Though the colonial powers have liberated Africa, yet they rule the thinking of Africans psychologically. Thus in spite of being free, the people of Africa are destructed as their culture has been lost due to colonialism.

The poet believes that in order to negate English, they will have to affirm it first. Hence in his works, only words are of English language, else the structure and form are that of Africa.

The poem has developing sentences. The words used in the poem are quite easy and commonly spoken which can be understood by every person belonging to ex-communities.

The poem Negus, like any other poem of Kamau Brathwaite is meant to be sung and not to be read in order to get the meaning. Hence this poem forms a part of Orature or Oral Literature which is native to African Culture.

Brathwaite writes such a poem to defend the orature of Africa over the written literature of colonialists. Throughout the poem, we find a plea for bringing back the orature which has been lost due to the introduction of colonial education.


The poem is divided into two parts. In the first part, the poet stresses on the fact that just being physically free from colonial powers is not enough as they want psychological freedom as well.

In the second part, the poet revolts against the colonialism and demands his language so that he may create a world of his own.

Part 1

The poet says that it is not enough to be physically free from the colonialism (“red white and blue of the drag, of the dragon”) and from the rule of colonial powers (whips, principalities, and powers).

He wonders where is the language that was their own. This a kind of sigh that is made on the loss of their language which was their identity and culture.

He again says that it is not enough to overcome the challenges of the physical life i.e. just recovering from physical diseases like malaria, or escaping from disasters or overcoming the fear of invasions or droughts or fire is not enough.

It is not enough to go to work by ringing bicycle bell as materialism of Japan (“Japanese-constructed United-Fruit-Company-imported hard sell, tell tale tele-vision set”) and the technical achievements (“structure skyscrapers, excavate the moon-scaped seashore sands to build hotels, casinos. sepulchres”)  are immaterial as they take one away from reality virtuality.

It is not enough to cut them (Africans) off from their myths, gods, past, history etc. and it is also not enough to pray to Christ (God of colonialists) by making a series of knocking sounds on the telephone.

Part 2

The poet moves to 1st person “I”. He says that he must be given words (his native language) so that he may be able to explain his name to trees i.e. he must be given that language which is the language of nature. Thus he considers the language of Africa to be close to nature and far from materialism.

He wants to heal his future from the wounds given by colonialists to their culture and language. He wants words so that he may be able to reclaim his past and bring it into existence which was suppressed by the colonialists.

Through this language, he will create the world, the environment, the heaven, the gods, the ocean and the land. Thus he wants to recreate the traditional world of the past which was destructed by colonialists.

The poet again says that it is not enough to be semi-colony (i.e. physically free but not mentally) nor it is enough to remain silent. He demands freedom wholly (both physically as well as mentally). He wants words through which he would blind the God of colonialists and bring his own God instead.